Volunteers’ Week – sharing the joys of volunteering
Every year, Livability enjoys the commitment and generosity of our volunteers and their willingness to give whatever they can to boost our work. Volunteers’ Week is a time for us to celebrate this brilliant and diverse community which we call ‘Team Livability’. To find out what motivates our incredible volunteers, we spoke to Theresa Dickson and Peter Shepherd who volunteer at Livability’s Holton Lee service in Poole.
How did you find out about Livability?
Theresa: I had been attending a personal development course in Bournemouth and my personal coach told me about Livability – Holton Lee. She arranged a visit and I came to meet Emma – manager of Livability’s Flourish horticultural therapy programme – and looked around. I fell in love with the place immediately.
Peter: I was at an event there with the Dorset Wildlife Trust. The environment manager at Livability – Holton Lee made a request for volunteers to help manage the conservation work and I signed up.
What does your role involve?
Theresa: I volunteer with the Flourish programme on Mondays. I completed the programme about a year and a half ago and really didn’t want to stop my work at Livability, so it was agreed I’d stay on as a volunteer. Alongside the gardening work and other creative activities, I try to be a friendly face to new people, and encourage the others to develop in confidence. We’re all a team, so sharing laughs, talking, getting to know one another and taking an interest in their lives is all part of my work.
Peter: Volunteering with Flourish involves clearing brambles and nettles, weeding, planting, watering, moving topsoil and anything else that happens to come up. It’s a big site to maintain – 70 hectares and all six native reptile species are found there, as well as lots of bird species, including Dartford warblers.
What is your favourite thing(s) about volunteering at Livability?
Theresa: My favourite thing about volunteering is the completely non-judgmental attitude of everyone who works there, staff and volunteers. Regardless of the varying levels of ability in our team, we’re all equally respected and appreciated as we are. There are so many different personalities there, but we all get on. I also enjoy learning new skills, being outdoors and gaining more knowledge about horticulture.
Peter: I like being in a really diverse group of people. What we do is purposeful, therapeutic and good exercise. It’s often referred to as green gym – it’s good to be outdoors in beautiful surroundings. Lots of people have said to me that you get a good feeling as soon as you turn off the main road and enter the Livability site. It’s true for me too.
How has volunteering impacted your life?
Theresa: Volunteering has had a massive impact on my life. When I started on the Flourish programme in 2014 I was in a pretty bad place. I had not long been out of hospital, was very isolated and depressed, and felt like my life didn’t have a purpose. I knew I wasn’t fit for paid work but desperately needed to feel like there was a reason to get up in the morning. Volunteering has built my confidence up. My anxiety around being with others has reduced a great deal. Very quickly that Monday morning became a positive focus in my week. I had to overcome my anxiety around public transport too as I catch a train to Poole to get a lift from one of the other volunteers. In fact, I have moved forward so much that I am managing some part-time paid work alongside the volunteering. It has been a huge stepping stone for me.
Peter: Volunteering has made a massively positive impact! It helps to give a structure to my week. This is even more important now that I’m fully retired. Another thing that strikes me is that you get back at least as much as you give: I don’t see volunteering as a noble thing at all. It’s a bit like the glow that you get from giving someone a present. Working alongside all sorts of people with diverse needs is fun, and at the same time it does make me very aware of how good my quality of life is.
Do you think that volunteering in our communities can help tackle social isolation?
Theresa: Absolutely, even the brief contact with others helps to desensitize the anxiety that many people feel when they become isolated. If you have a reason to leave your house, like a purpose, it’s definitely a motivator.
Peter: Yes! Flourish epitomises this. The programme is well run, we are all valued, and there is a happy atmosphere in which people with diverse needs work alongside each other, whether service users or volunteers.
Would you like to join Team Livability? You can be a part of our enabling network by getting active in a locality, donating to our work or volunteering in our programmes, you can make your community livable.
Livability has volunteering opportunities across the country for you to get involved with. Just contact us to find out more.